While area high school seniors are busy working on their college applications, their parents are worrying about how to pay for college.
Costs have skyrocketed 213 percent at public universities and 129 percent at private universities in the last 30 years. Things are not going to get any cheaper anytime soon, but there are steps parents can take now to get their share of financial aid for college.
Here are five steps to obtain financial aid:
The first step is to complete and submit the Department of Education’s Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), an online form that is available Oct. 1 each year. Plan to submit it by Nov. 30 for your best chance at aid. It’s important to complete this form even if parents think they make too much money for federal aid, because many colleges use this information to distribute merit aid, and the State of California uses it for state aid. This and all financial aid forms must be completed annually.
Keep track of financial aid deadlines for colleges that your student is applying to, and provide required information on time. Aid deadlines are often different than application deadlines. Public universities use FAFSA exclusively for aid, while private colleges rely on FAFSA and often ask for additional information from the CSS Profile or their own institutional aid forms.
Understand the specific questions asked, and report honestly. But don’t double report assets. For example, make sure you are reporting retirement assets as a response to the IRA question, but don’t also include it as an investable asset. When in doubt, ask your tax preparer or investment advisor for clarification.
After filing FAFSA, the Department of Education will determine your family’s ability to pay for college with an Estimated Family Contribution (EFC). Colleges will make a financial offer based on your EFC. Every year, you’ll likely be responsible to pay your EFC and maybe more, unless the college offers your student merit or other gift aid. Research before applications are due to add colleges to your student’s list that meet 100 percent of demonstrated need, and accommodate students with your family income.
Review acceptance offers carefully, as grant/loan information is inconsistent from college to college and can be confusing. There is no requirement for colleges to consistently describe the likely combination of grants, scholarships, and loans they are offering. Read them carefully to make sure you are comparing apples to apples, and contact the college’s financial aid office to clarify if necessary, before accepting any offer.
Lastly, while no one wants to enter the working world piled high with debt, a college education is an investment, and should be viewed as such. College graduates on average earn more than $1 million in their lifetime than their non-educated peers. But college debt should be manageable according to the student’s career plans and ability to repay.”